We get it: You'd love a furry roommate (and we don't mean your significant other). But your landlord's not open to it, so sneaking one in comes to mind. (Plenty has been written before about how to do so.) But do you really want to keep a secret that big in the place you live every day? Three words: too much stress.
The bottom line, says Mark Karten, a licensed real estate broker and founder of NYC Pet Specialist, is that getting a dog or cat (or python) into a non pet-friendly building is about as easy as finding a rent-controlled apartment in the West Village.
“Most landlords are just anti-pet,” he tells us, noting that for many buildings, the hassle of possible noise, messes, and conflict among tenants simply doesn’t make it worth the risk. But despair not—there are some tips and tricks for getting a pooch into what might otherwise be stringently pup-free pad:
PUT YOUR BEST PAW FORWARD
“Everything in life is about who you know, like and trust,” Karten says. “It depends on the pet and the person." For instance, if you have sparkling references, stellar credit, and a small, well-behaved dog, you might still get greenlit.
“I’ve worked with a few buyers and renters that had a pet that might go over the weight limit or wasn’t an approved breed for the building,” says Katherine Salyi of Sotheby's. But putting together a “pet resume” comprising of a reference letter, health history, training certifications, and a photo will help make a case by not only proving that you're serious about pleasing your landlord, but that you actually have a responsible pet. It’s also important to have a letter from your vet saying your dog is up to date on vaccines (no anti-vaxxers!).
In a way, Salyi notes, it’s a lot like online dating. “It’s not uncommon for hopeful tenants to fudge the weight of their dog. They’re presenting the picture they want people to see.” Obviously, you can't say your Great Dane weighs what a Corgi does, or the landlord will call your bluff. But neither is likely to begrudge a few pounds. Again it really depends on how lenient your landlord is.
GO FETCH (AN EXTRA DEPOSIT)
Another way to sweeten the deal with your potential landlord is by offering extra security deposit and supplemental rent. According to Salyi, that’s probably anywhere from an extra one to two months’ rent on top of your original deposit. “Landlords want extra security [to cover potential damage],” she says.
Their concerns aren’t unfounded. Karten says that many bigger buildings don’t allow pets—and especially dogs—because of the wear and tear they bring to an apartment, especially to elevators.
“Dog hair tends to stick to the grease on elevator pulleys and causes the need for more maintenance work,” he says. And if your beloved designer dog has an accident out in the hallway on some carpet, that’s even more cleaning.
TEACH AN OLD DOG NEW TRICKS
If you’ve decided to move into a building that staunchly doesn’t allow pets, don’t expect your landlord to magically change his mind overnight just because you suddenly have to have a dog. That said, there are, of course, side doors to getting pets into non-pet buildings. One is the tricky “three-month law,” which says that if you have a companion animal in your apartment “openly and notoriously” for three months, “any no-companion animal clause in a lease is considered waived and unenforceable.”
That means you have to live your life as you normally would, just with your new pet, so no smuggling your Yorkie out the door in a handbag or hiding pee pads and water dishes. And, after three months, if your landlord hasn't said anything or filed a suit, they cannot do a thing about the newest tenant. The city recommends keeping detailed notes about when and where an employee of the building saw you with your (non-notorious) pet and who else witnessed the encounter.
The law states that you shouldn't fear threats of eviction if you're discovered, and even if you lose your case in a lower court, you can appeal. And even if the court rules you have to get rid of your companion animal, you can still likely keep your apartment, albeit after some hefty legal fees, which, if you think about it, is an awful lot of stress and hassle just to keep a dog around.
On top of tricky laws, shady service animal designations have become a rather notorious tactic in the last few years. If you're facing an eviction over a pet, head over to the Mayor's Alliance for NYC Animals, which offers legal advice if your landlords is evicting you over a nefarious pet. But, as Patricia Marx noted in her brilliant 2014 New Yorker piece about the many loopholes of having a service animal, “one person’s emotional support could mean another person’s emotional trauma."
Karten says the law extends to most bizarre animals. “If my python makes me feel better and allows me to go outside, that will fly. But the average person has to know that if you have three pit bulls, nobody will take you unless it’s a private home.”
And just because you can technically skirt the law doesn't mean the people in your building will be okay with a slobbering St. Bernard in the elevator. He recommends not getting entangled in legal wrangling, because living in a shared building is about trust. “You don’t want to burn any bridges,” he states. But that's a matter of opinion, meaning that if you want to try for a little terrier in your building and are up for trying the three-month law, the city is technically on your side.
LANDLORD’S BEST FRIEND
At the end of the day, nothing gets you more bonus points than actual friendship and camaraderie with your landlord—at least within reason. “If you have good credit and are a wonderful potential tenant, the landlord will bend a bit,” Karten says.
That means if you've been living in a non-pet building but want a four-legged friend, your best course of action is first starting a friendship with your two-legged landlord. Be honest about your desire for a pet, and, if you've been friendly and a good tenant, your landlord is more likely to bend the rules, since it's it's ultimately more difficult for him to find a new quality tenant.
When you're looking, also keep in mind that most new construction buildings allow pets as a way to attract new tenants, Salyi adds. But within reason. “The market really determines how selective a landlord can be,” even if you’re friendly.
If nothing else, these measures go to show the level of dedication pet owners and prospective owners have for their furry family members. “New York City dog owners will do almost anything for their pets,” Salyi says.